Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land

Theology and the Local Church in the Holy Land Conference

(Palestinian Contextual Theology Conference)
24th Session

“Educating on Pluralism in the Palestinian Society

1-3 December 2016
Grand Park Hotel - Bethlehem

Conference final communique
Photo album
Conference Program
Conference Invitation

Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land Holds the 24th Session of the Theology Conference in Bethlehem 2016


“Educating on Pluralism in the Palestinian Society”

This conference is the first one after the passing away of the founder and the director of Al-Liqa’ Center, Dr. Geries Sa’ad Khoury.

Al-Liqa’ Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land held the twenty-fourth session of the Theology and Local Church in the Holy Land entitled: “Educating on Pluralism in the Palestinian Society” during three days from Thursday till Saturday 1-3/12/2016 in Grand Park Hotel, in Bethlehem.

The Conference was opened with a prayer and a contemplation presented by Father Dr. Rafiq Khoury. It was followed by welcoming speeches by his beatitude Patriarch Michael Sabbah, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Al-Liqa’ Center, his eminence Bishop Attallah Hanna and Dr. Yousef Zaknoun, director of Al-Liqa’ Center. The opening speeches revolved around the theme of the conference and the challenges faced by the religious, educational and social institutions under the phenomena of making someone infidel and terrorism, not only military terrorism but also intellectual and creed terrorism which is sweeping the Arab homeland specially in the neighboring countries.

The Conference was attended by a number of Christian clergymen in the forefront of whom were his beatitude Patriarch Michael Sabbah, head of the Board of Trustee of Al-Liqa’ Center, his eminence Bishop Attallah Hanna, member of Al-Liqa’ Center Board of Trustees, his eminence Bishop Butros Al-Mu’allem, in addition to a number of esteemed parish priests and nuns. A large number of seculars, academicians, educators, and those interested in the issues of their people and their society participated in the proceedings of the Conference. They came from several areas in the homeland specially from the Galilee, the coast and the Triangle in addition to the Bethlehem area. What distinguished the Conference were the presence and wide participation of Muslim brothers and sisters and Druzes who contributed in the lectures of the Conference and enriched the ideas through constructive discussions and in-depth dialogues which enriched the topic under discussion.


Proceedings of the Conference

Lectures and Seminars Rich in Content and Based on Frankness and the Spirit of Criticism.

The sessions of the Conference began in the evening of Thursday first of December with a lecture entitled: “Pluralism: A Theological Vision” which was presented by Father Dr. Jamal Khader and moderated by Mrs. Hanadi Soudah-Younan.

On the following day, Friday, the Conference began with a prayer and a contemplation presented by Reverend Munther Ishaq. The first lecture in the Conference was entitled: “The Current Reality in Palestine and the Arab East” which was presented by lecturer Dr. Asem Khalil and it was moderated by Father Dr. Rafiq Khoury. The lecturer dealt with the forms and essence of pluralism and viewing it as an imperialistic inheritance in Palestine. From here its opposition came specially by the despotic and unitary authority. In front of this splintered reality which the legal, the political and the societal order refuses to recognize it and to deal with it, the researcher sees that the thinking which is based on the necessity of defining the features of this variety in the Palestinian society and the Arab world should not be accompanied by the feeling of guilt on the part of the one who does it. It should not result from it excluding or making a traitor of the one who adopts such a method. Rather this thinking in variety and difference which exist in reality and which is denied in our political, legal and social imagination has now become – and more than any time before – an urgent need in order to have a balanced starting out towards a better future for all which is based on respecting the other on the one hand, and to cooperate and to be in solidarity with him to achieve a better future for all, on the other hand. The starting point for what was previously mentioned is pluralism.

The second lecture was entitled: “The Difficulty of Educating on Pluralism and its Potentials.” It was presented by Dr. Diana Da’boul, an educational lecturer and researcher. It was moderated by Prof. Dr. Qustandi Shomali. The lecturer discussed the splintering and divisions existing in the Palestinian society. She said: “Education in its broadest concept is a group of processes by which the society can transfer its acquired knowledge and its goals to preserve its existence. It also means at the same time continuous renewal of the heritage and of the individuals who carry it. From here it is a process of continuous growth. It is considered life in itself in its growth and its renewal. Thus it is preferable and expected to know the extent of its influence on and its crystallizing the character of the individual in the society, and we begin to design it in the form which we want for our society with its pluralism and the difference of its individuals. If we do not plant the spirit and the good traits of “respecting and accepting pluralism” since young age and through school and home upbringing, we will find this difficult in the “society of adults.”


She added that “it is not possible to separate school education from home / paternal upbringing. Among the difficulties of educating on pluralism we can enumerate the conflict between values which the student acquired in the house and scholastic educational values, and also a conflict between values acquired by the team of male and female teachers and the values of the school in which they work.” Dr. Da’boul discussed some practical experiments which she conducts through her work and her activities.

In the afternoon a session entitled: “Educating on pluralism in the parish and the societal institutions” was held, in which each of the following participated: Mr. Zoughbi Zoughbi, director of Wi’am Center for Peace, Dr. Umar Miz’il, a professor in the Cardinal Martini Institution for Leadership and in the College of Education, and Father Ibrahim Nairouz, pastor of the Episcopal Church in Nablus and Rafidea. The session was moderated and introduced by Mrs. Sawsan Bitar.

The second day was concluded by a seminar entitled “Experiences in the domain of educating on pluralism” in which Father Dr. Iyad Twal director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in the Holy Land and Dr. Fawzi Barakat Al-Qasrawi, a researcher and professor of Islamic thought. It was moderated and introduced by Mr. Michael Rock, chairman of the Religious Studies Department at Bethlehem University.

Father Dr. Iyad Twal talked about the religious education course at Bethlehem University which is distinguished by it from the other Palestinian Universities which do not teach Christian law. He added that the importance of this course is due to the fact that it comes in the Holy Lands which had witnessed the most important heavenly religious events. He indicated the seriousness of the course in its adoption of the expository style. It is not a course of comparison, and if it is found in it, it is not detailed. What is positive in it is the creation of “the dialogue of friends”.

Dr. Fawzi Al-Qasrawi completed the talk on the experience of the course in Bethlehem. He stopped in his interpolation at the concept of religious pluralism for which he made three titles: exclusionism which views that its religion is the only right one, participationism which claims that religions are similar and there are no essential differences between them, and the third is pluralism which emphasizes that religions have one purpose but in different ways.

He resumed talking with all frankness and transparency about the experience of the course, and he presented practical and life models. He discussed the results of a research conducted among the students of the course which revealed the extent of positive influence which the course had planted in their souls.


In the third and last day, two sessions were held after the prayer and contemplation which were presented by Father Issa Hejazin. The first session dealt with “The role of our schools in educating on pluralism.” The following participated in this session: Sister Lucy Qiqi, headmistress of the Rosary Sisters’ Secondary School in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem, Mrs. Shireen Mughannam, headmistress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Secondary School in Ramallah, and Mrs. Suad Younan, headmistress of the Helen Keller School for special Education in Jerusalem. The session was introduced and moderated by Mr. Ziad Shlewit.

Sister Lucy presented the experience of her school in applying programs which aim for pluralism through activities throughout the year under the difficulties surrounding this experience. She concluded by saying: “The basic landmarks and pillars which should be preserved in our school are represented in openness on the other culture on the one hand, besides adhering to the special identity on the other hand, in addition to the care directed towards strengthening relations through cultures and dialogue sessions across the religions which seek a better understanding of the other and reinforcing the values of mutual respect. At the end we bring to the society individuals imbibed with the values and criteria which help to undertake the basic functions in the social life.”

Mrs. Mughannam also talked about a similar experience in her school starting out from the same considerations, concepts and values, and which are based on the teachings of Christ. She said: “We had to be attentive to the strange and alien agendas in our school. Thus we had to put a clear and explicit project in accepting pluralism in its various forms and which suit our intellectual system.” She presented models of how to deal with the project in the school through the participation of the teaching staff who include Muslim and Christian teachers, and the experience of the morning broadcast and its shared contents which are based on pluralism.

In her lecture, Mrs. Younan put a number of questions as challenges and a description of the real matter in our society including: Does pluralism exist in our schools? What is the extent of variety and interest in individual differences? The status of the woman, the rights of the child? Is democracy practiced in our schools? She added that standing in confronting pluralism is the cultural barrier and not only the religious, political and legal barrier. Younan emphasized that change begins in the mentalities from the home to the school.

The last seminar came under the title: “The role of the churches in firmly establishing the culture of accepting the other and dialogue under a pluralistic society. Bishop William Al-Shomali General Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, Bishop Attallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sabastia for the Greek Orthodox, and Bishop Muneeb Younan, bishop of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Jordan and the Holy Lands participated in this seminar which was introduced and moderated by Dr. Yousef Zaknoun, director of Al-Liqa’ Center and director of the Cardinal Martini for Leadership at Bethlehem University.

In his interpolation, Bishop William Al-Shomali said: “The culture of the dialogue and accepting the other are at the core of the Christian message and it is not imported. Christ was open on non-Jews. We conclude from this from his meetings with the commander of the one hundred soldiers, the Canaanite woman and the Samiri woman, rather from His teachings about love which is without limits. The church, through preaching, teaching and during undertaking social and charitable projects, is called upon to educate its children on thinking about the others who are different from us, accepting, and engaging in dialogues with them because they are our brothers and they are created on God’s image and His likeness.” He emphasized that dialogue does not mean relinquishing the self-identity and dissolving in the other.  

Bishop Muneeb Younan stopped at the difficulties of the dialogue and pluralism among the churches themselves, although the church is the source of pluralism, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in several tongues. Pluralism is at the core of our Christian faith as he said. He said apprehensively: “I fear for the church of Christ from its leaderships and its parishes. Sometimes we behave as if my church is my tribe and my clan. We practice discrimination, vanity and pride among each other. Tribal sectarianism is one of the maladies of the present age in the Palestinian church.”


At the beginning of his interpolation, Bishop Attallah Hanna put the question: “What do we do in order to firmly establish the values of the gospel in our treatment of each other, and with the others the followers of the religions who share us in the human belonging? And how can we confront extremism and terrorism?” He added: “Military campaigns alone are unable to do that. We must deal with the topic culturally and intellectually. Here the places of worshipping have a role. Al-Liqa’ Center has a role and it forms a model for more than one location in the Arab countries. It is required of us as a church to teach our children that they are the native children of the land and that their belonging to this land should confront the calls for evacuation.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Yousef Zaknoun thanked the chairman of Al-Liqa’ Board of Trustees, its members and the members of the preparatory committee of the Conference for all the efforts they exerted for the sake of holding the Conference and making it successful. He also thanked those who came from all areas special remote areas. He also thanked the lecturers, the moderators and those who engaged in discussions for the interpolations and ideas which they presented and which enriched the Conference with its researches and topics. Mr. Ziad Shlewit read the concluding statement of the Conference which received the agreement of the participants.